Ask a narcissist if they are dependable and they will say, “I’m the most responsible person you know, you can always count on me.” And they can be. But when the rubber meets the road (an old saying about being put to the test), narcissists seem to wiggle out of accountability. Why?
Narcissists will gladly be responsible for the things they deem worthy, especially when it provides an opportunity to be the center of attention. However, when others place responsibility on the narcissist, the narcissist sees this as an attempt to control them. This violates one of their personal mantras: no one will have power over them. So they escape from all liability. How?
- Intimidate/Blame. The narcissist begins by bullying the person endeavoring to hold them accountable. Frequently they resort to name calling and belittling to assert dominance over the other person. Once a subordinate position has been established, they blame the person for attempting to make the narcissist look less than superior.
- Accuse/Project. To circumvent any accountability, the narcissist preempts the attack by accusing another person. Usually, they pick an overly responsible, co-dependent person who idolizes the narcissist. Then the narcissist projects the things they are answerable for onto the other person. Thus escaping before the attack.
- Argue/Exhaust. This is the simplest tactic with great immediate results. When confronted, the narcissist picks one small detail and argues it to the umpteenth degree. If the other person argues back, they pick another tiny point and persistently wear down their opponent. Exhausted, frustrated, and annoyed, the other person gives upholding the narcissist liable.
- Deny/Rewrite. One way of avoiding responsibility is for the narcissist to deny they have any. Even if the item is written down, the narcissist will make excuses and rewrite history. Frequently they take the victim role by saying they were forced into being held accountable when in actuality they willingly did so. This tactic often leaves the other person questioning themselves and their memory.
- Divert/Attack. This method begins with an outburst over something very insignificant. Then, the narcissist exaggerates the point to incite the other person and draw their attention away from what really is happening. Whenever the narcissist is fueling a small fire, it is to keep the focus off the inferno somewhere else. The diversion is done to drain resources, energy, and time so the narcissist can attack when the other person is vulnerable.
- Fear/Avoid. Narcissists have the ability to take a person’s small fear and turn it into paranoia. Their charisma is put to destructive uses as they weave a believable story with an intense dreadful outcome. Once the other person is frightened, the narcissist uses the other person’s terror as justification for avoiding responsibility. They often cite that the other person is reactionary and therefore any requests from the other person should be discounted.
- Rescue/Retreat. This tactic is the most manipulative of the bunch. First, the narcissist rescues the other person from a dreadful situation. Having gained the other person’s loyalty, the narcissist waits. Eventually, the other person confronts the narcissist about a lack of responsibility and then the narcissist retreats. The withholding of love/attention/time is so dramatic that the other person becomes horrified and assumes responsibility so that the narcissist will return. Once secured, the narcissist then accuses the other person of not appreciating the rescue. The other person feels bad and succumbs to the wishes of the narcissist even further.
While this article was written with narcissists in mind, several other personality disorders use a couple of these tactics as well. Anti-social (sociopaths and psychopaths), histrionic, borderline, obsessive-compulsive, paranoid and passive-aggressive personality disorders all utilize portions of these methods as well.